Thursday, January 07, 2010

European Forecast: Cloudy With Occasional Signs Of Kindness

A collection of some small news stories hidden behind the dominant headlines on a wistful Thursday morning.

21st Century Book-Burning: UK pensioners are resorting to buying books as fuel for home fireplaces and stoves in order to keep from freezing to death:
Temperatures this week are forecast to plummet as low as -13ºC in the Scottish Highlands, with the mercury falling to -6ºC in London, -5ºC in Birmingham and -7ºC in Manchester as one of the coldest winters in years continues to bite.
Workers at one charity shop in Swansea, in south Wales, how the most vulnerable shoppers were seeking out thick books such as encyclopaedias for a few pence because they were cheaper than coal.
A 500g book can sell for as little as 5p, while a 20kg bag of coal costs £5.
UK Garbage Wars: There's no money for pensioners to heat their homes but there's plenty of time and money to keep track of trash collectors who are caught in the act of taking out too much trash on their neighborhood routes: Hard-working binman Albert Stewart was been disciplined for helping residents by taking away extra bin bags left beside overflowing wheelie bins.
[H]is obliging nature has angered his employers at West Lancashire Borough Council who've accused him breaking strict refuse rules.
They say binmen should only empty wheelie bins and must leave other rubbish dumped beside the bins behind.
[Mr Stewart] accused the council of "spying” on its own binmen and said bosses were being motivated by money.
"I have done the same round for over 30 years, and now, just because I took some side waste, I’m being punished," he said.
"All I was doing was helping people out by taking the odd black bag or two from beside their full wheelie bins.
"The council found out because they've had people going around spying on their own dustmen. It’s ridiculous.
"Personally, I think it is for financial reasons. People can get fined for putting out too much rubbish and the council didn’t like me being helpful because it meant they were missing out on money."
Householders caught leaving extra waste beside their wheelie bin are issued with a £100 fixed penalty notice but repeat offenders can be taken to court and given a £1,000 fine.
As penance for his efforts the 30-year trashman has been made to work another route, much to the frustration of the families who got to know him over the years he served them:
"Albert was not just a binman he’s also a friend. He was always willing to help and it’s very sad that he has been taken off his route. I’m not the only one – everyone appreciated him when he came round."
Maybe one of the reasons his compassionate attitude was so appreciated is revealed in a Daily Mail story from the day before: UK trashmen are not required to pick up refuse from bins if they are open more than a quarter of an inch, and are issued tape measures to assist them in determining whether they should bother taking out the trash or not:

Bill Gough, a 54-year-old office manager, confronted the collectors when they refused to empty his bin on Tuesday.
"I’d stamped on my rubbish to get it as flat as possible but the lid was still a little open," he said.
"I’d managed to wheel it down to the bottom of my driveway without any spillages and was shocked when a binman told me they couldn’t empty it because the lid was more than quarter of an inch open.
"I thought he was joking but then he got his measuring tape out and showed me. They said they had no choice for health and safety reasons.
"I’m asking them to take away a few bits of extra wrapping paper – not dispose of nuclear waste."
Grandmother Doreen Stubbs, 66, said: "The binmen were totally obnoxious and swore at my son when he asked why they hadn’t collected the rubbish. There was no talking to them, they were like the Gestapo.
"If little old ladies can drag their bins then surely men, who we pay to do their jobs, can use a bit of common sense and compassion.
"There are people around here who are disabled. Some of them have no transport, how are they expected to take their rubbish to the tip?"
Germany's Soldiers Fight Alone: Reinhold Robbe, the German Parliament’s military commissioner, is struck by the differences he sees while visiting the US. Americans greet returning servicemen with applause and offers to buy them a beer, while back home in Europe, “There’s no real empathy in Germany toward the soldiers who risk life and limb every day...”:
A staff sergeant, who had been risking his life almost daily outside Kunduz, recalled a trip to Berlin during which he was wearing his uniform at a train stop. He was told to make himself scarce or he would be beaten up.
“It was shocking,” said the sergeant... “We’re looked down on. With American soldiers, they tell me how they receive recognition, how people just come up to them and say they’re doing good.”
"This sense of appreciation, you don’t get that, the feeling that wearing your uniform people are going to be proud of you,” said Heike Groos, who has written about her time as a German military doctor in Afghanistan. “Young people die. Young people are badly wounded and one feels out of place and lonely when one thinks, ‘No one in Germany understands and no one in Germany is even interested.' ”

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